RALEIGH, N.C. — Shadi Sadi woke up Wednesday with his stomach in knots. He walked to his son’s room to get him ready for school.
“Who won?” 8-year-old Bilal asked as he pulled out of his Marvel superhero sheets.
Sadi, 34, could hardly say the words. “Donald Trump won,” he said. Bilal’s jaw dropped, and his dad tried to remain calm as he walked downstairs to prepare breakfast.
About an hour away, in the small, heavily working-class town of Dunn, truck driver Gary Godwin strode into Sherry’s Bakery with a smile on his face. It is a simple restaurant, with doughnuts and cupcakes, where women in hairnets man skillets and greet customers by name.
Godwin sat with friends he’s known since growing up on a nearby sweet potato and tobacco farm. Their eyes were fixed on a television as a broadcaster recapped Trump’s victory.
“That’s my man!” Godwin said. “Trump is a businessman. He’ll get people to stop sitting on their porch and not working. No one knows how to do anything.”
“And you have all these people coming from across the border to take their jobs,” added Stan Carroll, 70.
It was morning in Trump’s America, hours after the Republican’s improbable victory. The election had been grueling, and the polarization it brought to the country did not die at the ballot box. The diverging views in two North Carolina communities — so close geographically, and yet so far apart culturally — showed how the divisions exposed during the campaign will be difficult, if not impossible, to heal.
In Raleigh, Sadi and his wife, Amani Asad, felt confused and queasy. They were proud to practice their Muslim faith and to be Americans. Yet they wondered what their place was in a country that supported the ascent of a man who proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country and attacked the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier.
In Dunn, Godwin and his friends felt optimistic and redeemed. For the first time in years, several there said, they couldn’t be accused of being on the wrong side of history — nor did they feel boxed out of the country’s future.
Customers wondered whether Trump would reopen some of the military bases. A man wearing a pest control uniform declared that “Trump will lower my taxes from 35 to 15 percent, and I’ll be one happy SOB.”
Then he and Godwin high-fived.
“It’s about damn time the country opened their eyes,” Godwin said.
They felt an optimism in this country that they hadn’t felt in years. The way the old-timers tell it, times in Dunn hadn’t changed much. But it seemed as if they were constantly at odds with another type of America, where people seemed to have a different set of values. Carroll said he didn’t know whether Trump could fix the country’s problems, but at least he had newer ideas than the political establishment.
“The Democrats used to be the party of the working man,” Carroll said. “Now, all they want to talk about is gays and transgenders. What about jobs?”
He took a breath.
“Last night, I feel like we got a little piece of our country back,” Carroll said. “It looks like everything’s going our way.”
This was the mystery of America, said Bobby Tyndall, 71, as he ate his bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. “You can’t take nothing for granted,” Tyndall said. “And Trump worked for it. I think he’ll work to end the racial strife and stop the killings. Great day to be an American.”
Back in Raleigh, the day didn’t feel so great for Sadi and his family
A bit of their country felt as if it was slipping away as they watched the election returns Tuesday night.
Election night started out well when they walked into a house turned community center called the Light House.
Asad had draped an American flag scarf over her hijab with patriotic defiance. Asad said that growing up in Raleigh she never thought twice about covering her hair as a sign of faith. Lately, though, she said, other drivers were cutting her off and people were staring at her in restaurants.
“Over the past two years, things have changed,” Asad said. “What is so scary is you don’t know who hates you.”
Those fears started before Trump’s candidacy. In February 2015, her friend Deah Shaddy Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was shot and killed, allegedly by a neighbor. He is accused of fatally shooting Barakat’s wife and sister as well. The crime rocked the local Muslim American community. The accused gunman is awaiting trial.
Initially, Sadi and Asad felt empowered by the community response. The dental school, for example, holds a day of service each year to honor the victims. The family of Deah Barakat then renovated a house in a predominantly black neighborhood, creating the Light House community center, where they gathered to watch the election results.
They aren’t Hillary Clinton fans but felt the election could be consequential to repudiate the heightened Islamophobia they had been seeing.
“I feel the goodness of America will win out,” Sadi said at the start of the evening. “I feel that, in my stomach, people won’t vote for him because they value us as Americans.”
Early in the night, the group took a break from CNN to watch a trailer for a documentary about the life of Barakat and his family. The movie details how police suggested that the slayings were a result of a parking dispute gone awry, rather than an act of religious hatred. The trailer shows Barakat playing basketball and starting a program to give toothbrushes to the homeless. It also included Trump saying in an interview that “Islam hates us.”
By the time the trailer ended, Asad was drying her tears with her American flag scarf. The group sat in silence. Minutes passed. Someone wondered how a voter could like Trump without being anti-Islam. A high school student said that Trump won his class’s mock election 60 percent to 40 percent. It unnerved him so much that he didn't tell his parents.
Then, as they watched election returns, more states were called for Trump. After Ohio went into the Republican column, Asad got a text message from a friend who reported that someone was following her at a grocery store and had shouted, “Go, Trump!”
North Carolina was called for Trump, and Asad noticed a friend’s post on Facebook saying that she was afraid to leave her house.
Sadi and Asad left before the final results. They felt sick.
“Why would you want to screw your own country like this?” Asad said.
The next morning, Sadi was still in disbelief. Around his suburban subdivision, everyone seemed so calm and dismissed Trump as a “crazy guy.”
“I’m, like, legit scared of my neighbors,” Sadi said. “There weren’t any signs here, but the question is who was with him? Because I know they weren’t with her. That’s the biggest thing.”
The parents tried to appear calm while Bilal ate a bowl of Golden Grahams. Sadi reminded himself that this was a country of laws and that, more often than not, justice wins. He tried to remind himself that he was in a country that ensured freedom of religion, and that is something that will not change. Privately, he feared that his children will live “in a sucky time” to grow up.
Bilal grabbed his backpack. Asad took up the car keys to drive him to school. Sadi wrapped his son in his arms and kissed his forehead. He smiled to him and said, “Have a beautiful day.”